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Documenting Chukchi language: narratives and possible impulses on local art traditions


Language Chukchi (ISO639-3:ckt)
Depositor Erich Kasten
Affiliation Foundation for Siberian Cultures
Location Russian Federation
Collection ID 0640
Grant ID SG0603
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Forthcoming
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This collection documents Chukchi language that is spoken by sea mammal hunters and their families living along the northern coast of the pensinsula. Particular emphasis is on documenting narratives that are expressed in walrus tusk carving. Beyond language documentation for further linguistic analysis, this combination of oral tradition recorded in indigenous language with prominent artistic traditions expressed in material culture aims at encouraging useful discourses within the given communties. These may contribute to preserving and enhancing this valuable part of the cultural heritage of the Chukchi people.

The project has been designed by Erich Kasten and the data collecting and processing by the language consultants Viacheslav Shadrin and Viktoriia Golbtseva will be organised by him, as well as the production of the final outcomes.


Group represented

The collection of recorded Chukchi language and cultural activities related to walrus tusk carving focuses on villages of sea mammal hunters living along the northern coast, where this particular art and narrative traditions are still particularly alive among first language Chukchi speakers.


Language information

The Chukchi language belongs to the Chukotko-Kamchatkan language family, and both languages are also called Luoravetlan (meaning „the real people“). It is spoken in the Chukotka autonomous district, Kamchatka krai, and Sakha (Yakutia) republic, whereas the focus for the given language documentation will be on Chukchi speakers from northern Chukotka. In contrast to Koryak, the Chukchi language does not reveal significant local variations where it is spoken in Chukotka. Though there are slight differences in the speech of reindeer herder groups and those who live along the coast, and some minor variations can be identified between speakers of certain locations.

The Chukchi language is endangered (grade 6b threatened, according to Ethnologue). According to the 2010 census, there are 5,100 Chukchi speakers from the total number of 15,900 ethnic Chukchi. This corresponds to 30% of the population, whereas already 50% would be an indicator of language endangerment. According to a most recent detailed study by the Institute for [Indigenous Language] Teachers Training (GAU DPO CHIROiPK) in Anadyr the drastic decline of Chukchi speakers becomes even more evident (see M.N. Tneskina, “Stoit li izuchat’ svoi rodnoi yazyk KMNSSiDV?”). Their number went down from 2,126 in 2013 to 1,183 in 2016. In addition to this alarming trend, the given number of Chukchi speakers must be more qualified, if one considers that this refers mainly to that part of the population of 50 years of age and above. They mostly use it while working in production teams that are related to traditional economic activities, but more rarely at home. One of the reasons for this has been the growing influx of other populations from abroad that leads to an increasing bilingualism with Russian. This effects the transmission of the Chukchi language to the young generation, with the result that there is a rapidly decreasing number of first language Chukchi speakers. Although efforts have being made to compensate for this by means of Chukchi language classes in kindergarten and at school, an erosion of the language in its full complexity can be foreseen, which would lead in the long run, or even in the near future, to its loss, if appropriate measures are not taken in good time.


Special characteristics

Special emphasis is placed on the need to ensure that the recorded materials, once linguistically and technically processed, can be used in different formats by members of the indigenous communities. In this way, endangered Chukchi language together with important oral and art traditions can be sustained and be made attractive especially for the youth. Therefore, in addition to printed learning tools the annotated video data will be presented in form of a virtual exhibition on the web portal Digital Humanities of the North ( where it can be freely accessed and be used with modern digital devices such as smart phones.


Collection contents

The foreseen collection will contain in total more than 20 hours of recorded language on:
– narratives,
– commentaries during the process of carving,
– life histories of the recorded speakers,
– and possible further cultural activities.
In addition to that the collection will also contain more than 1 hour Chukchi language materials that Erich Kasten had recorded during earlier fieldwork in various parts of Chukotka in 2014.


Collection history

Currently, Erich Kasten has been creating a similar collection on the Itelmen, Even and Koryak languages on Kamchatka (Deposit key 0611). The collecting of the data for this new collection on Chukchi language will begin in April 2020 and first final data to be uploaded is expected for the end of 2020.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Kasten, Erich. 2020. Chukchi narratives and possible impulses on local art traditions. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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